We live now in a world where the are rogue states routinely defying the rest of the world and developing nuclear weapons. A world where some states laugh at UN sanctions and rush ahead with their nuclear weapons program. A world where resurging authoritarianism is undoing whatever progress toward democracy Russia had made. A world that has US senators actively trying to go beyond their constitutional authority to try to inject themselves into foreign policy. A world where it is vital we get our priorities straight. And Congress is doing just that. They are working to solve a really, really major problem.
Veronica Brown is a hot fashion designer, making a living off the virtual lingerie and formalwear she sells inside the online fantasy world Second Life. She expects to have earned about $60,000 this year from people who buy her digital garments to outfit their animated self-images in this fast-growing virtual community.
But Brown got an unnerving reminder last month of how tenuous her livelihood is when a rogue software program that copies animated objects appeared in Second Life. Scared that their handiwork could be cloned and sold by others, Brown and her fellow shopkeepers launched a general strike and briefly closed the electronic storefronts where they peddle digital furniture, automobiles, hairdos and other virtual wares.
"It was fear, fear of your effort being stolen,'' said Brown, 44, whose online alter ego, Simone Stern, trades under the name Simone! Design.
Brown has reopened her boutique but remains uncomfortably aware that the issue of whether she owns what she makes — a fundamental right underpinning nearly all businesses — is unresolved.
As virtual worlds proliferate across the Web, software designers and lawyers are straining to define property rights in this emerging digital realm. The debate over these rights extends far beyond the early computer games that pioneered virtual reality into the new frontiers of commerce……
…..Congress has taken note and is completing a study of whether income in the virtual economy, such as from the sale of gowns that Brown makes, should be taxed by the Internal Revenue Service. The Joint Economic Committee of Congress is expected to issue its findings early next year.
"There seems to be a lack of ground rules in an area that would have explosive growth in the next decade or two," said Christopher Frenze, the committee's executive director.
Let's put aside the issue of a society that is more interested in a cyber-reality than in the real world for a moment. Let's look at the fact that lawmakers have spotted a potential new revenue source that doesn't actually exist. But may – probably will – end up being taxed. I don't begrudge Ms. Brown taking an opportunity and applying a talent to it to make money. Heck, I wish I could make money blogging.
But if we are now more concerned with virtual reality than actual reality, we have a problem. If Congress is more involved in worrying about taxing that virtual world than they are in the real events and challenges this nation faces from outside, then we have a huge problem.
Right now, the problem looks huge. Or bigger.